Item description for Barn Burning Barn Building: Tales of a Political Life, From LBJ to George W. Bush and Beyond by Ben Barnes...
How did the Democratic Party---of JFK, LBJ, and civil rights---fall from glory? How did Texas, home of its most promising players, become Bush territory? What do politicians on either side need to do today to get our country back on track? Ben Barnes has the answers. Barnes had a front-row seat through it all. His political savvy and bravado made him a standout in the rough-and-tumble world of Texas politics. He won a seat in the Texas Legislature in 1960, at the unheard-of age of 22, and four years later he became the youngest Speaker of the House since the Civil War. In 1968, he helped Congressman George Herbert Walker Bush get his son into the National Guard---a controversy that would rage during the 2004 presidential election. In 1970, Lyndon Johnson told the public that Ben was destined to be the next US president to hail from Texas. Barnes's rollicking memoir recalls the glory days of his Texas past and blazes a trail for our country's future.
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Est. Packaging Dimensions: Length: 9.4" Width: 6.3" Height: 1.1" Weight: 1.55 lbs.
Release Date May 8, 2006
Publisher Bright Sky Press
ISBN 1931721718 ISBN13 9781931721714
Availability 0 units.
More About Ben Barnes
Ben Barnes is a consultant and former lieutenant governor of Texas. He was a vice-chair and top fundraiser of the John Kerry campaign in the 2004 presidential elections. He has served as Speaker of the House in Texas from 1965 to 1969, U.S. representative to the NATO Conference in 1967, and United Nations Representative to Geneva, Switzerland in 1968. He lives in Austin, Texas.
Reviews - What do customers think about Barn Burning Barn Building: Tales of a Political Life, From LBJ to George W. Bush and Beyond?
Rise and Fall Aug 23, 2007
I was drawn to this book when I read in the obituaries for Lady Bird Johnson that the blurb she wrote for Barnes' book was the last thing the talented former First Lady wrote for publication and that, oddly enough, the blurb he has on the back of the book from Ann Richards was the last thing SHE wrote as well. It shows you, don't write blurbs for Ben Barnes I guess! Now I'll be waiting for the other blurbers to kick off, a new version of the internet "Death Pool," and I'll tell you, neither of them are spring chickens and one of them--Walter Cronkite--is already in the top 75 of the Death Pool list.
Oh well, in any case the book is a good read, particularly for those of you who, like me, don't know much about Texas politics. Barnes was a mere boy when he was elected to the Texas Legislature, when he quickly became the pet of aging speaker Sam Rayburn, the man they called "Mr Everything," and befriended Governor John Connally and President Lyndon Johnson. Ben came from the hill country, in the days before electricity came in and changed everything, and in this book he gives us a quick glimpse of what Camelot was like for a really young man with a lot on the ball and a lot of ambition. Texas Democrats were riding high back then, but within ten years it was all to change, and this story, which of course mirrors the larger political story of the bigger US, is sobering indeed. Barnes doesn't hesitate to name names, and he blames LBJ for pushing civil rights issues so hard that he alienated the conservative element that might have given in with more grace if given more leeway. At the same time he knows that it was the right thing to do, just a path that led to unfortunate developments which the Democrats' traditional enemy found a way to exploit and overturn.
At the beginning of the book, Rayburn whispers to Barnes that the significant event of the 1960 election was not that JFK won the thing, but that "Richard Nixon got hisass beat." Like a phoenix however, Nixon was to rise again and by the end of the book he had destroyed the Democratic hegemony of Texas and it has never really recovered. Barnes outlines the incredible "dirty tricks" campaign that brought him down. Strange to think that this rising young star, a young man whom LBJ said he would support "money, marbles, and chalk" became a hasbeen by the time he was 33--sort of like a rock star. He had red hair, sort of like Opie, but that crinkly kind so that in black and white newsphotos of the 1960s his head looks like it was topped with a waffle cone, the kind they sell at Carvels. He pleads with us to return our nation to the spirit of generosity and non partisanship that led to the creation of the Peace Corps. He has a whole "back to good government" program which will not please the Bush family, but so be it.
A captivating and inspiring tale of a life in American politics Oct 9, 2006
Ben Barnes, together with Lisa Dickey, produces a whirlwind political autobiography covering Barnes’s twelve years in elected office. In a quick, engaging style Barnes tells of the events that inspired him to contemplate the political life, and how he, an unknown 21-year-old, defeated a popular local war hero to win a seat in the Texas house. The narrative flows in a modest, vernacular style, providing an insider’s account into some of the most pivotal moments of the twentieth century. Barnes, through his roles as associate to Jim Connolly, governor of Texas, and leading member of the planning committee, reveals details of the incidents that led up to President Kennedy’s tragic trip to Dallas. The only other person in the room when Gov. Connolly let loose on Hubert Humphrey, he provides an inside account of the dramatic Democratic convention of 1968. Later, Barnes witnesses Connolly browbeat Pres. Nixon into resurrecting the political career of George H.W. Bush. And finally Barnes provides a first-hand account of the dirty politics of Nixon, who used all the power at his command to end his political career, defeating LBJs confident predictions that Barnes would become President.
Among these historical events, Barnes provides an entertaining and eye-opening account of his political life as member of the Texas house, then Speaker, and finally as lieutenant governor. Through it all, he emphasizes his observations of what works in politics, and what doesn’t. He shares his wisdom about the need of Democrats to engage business leaders to join in the efforts of creating progressive policy in response to social needs. Barnes stresses the necessity that politicians think not just of their immediate needs and projects, but to think of the people’s long-term needs and goals, and what must be done to reach them. His prime example of this is LBJ, who wounded his own Democratic party for the greater good of advancing civil rights. Finally, Barnes laments today’s incivility and breakdown in communication between parties, a hostility which results in policies detrimental to our long-term, and even short-term, interest.
A must read for political junkies of all stripes. Aug 16, 2006
I thoroughly enjoyed this book by Ben Barnes, even as a diehard Republican and former Republican congressional aide. It is well written, concise, and tells a story that moves along quickly and keeps the reader's attention since there are no extraneous details to bog one down. The story is one of Barnes's meteoric rise through the ranks of Texas Democrat politics, after graduating fron the University of Texas, as state house member, Lieutenant Governor, and candidate for Governor - all the while serving as a sounding board and kitchen cabinet member for President Lyndon Baines Johnson and Governor John Connally. It is also the story of how the LBJ and Connally Democrat machine in Texas ultimately gave way to the John Tower/George H.W. Bush/George W. Bush/Karl Rove Republican machine. Barnes also tells the interesting story of his part in the controversial placement of George W. Bush in the Texas Air National Guard during the Vietnam War.
There is very little Democrat partisan posturing, and such occurs only at the very end of the book, where I think Barnes could do a better job of admitting, reporting, and codemning (despite his experience as a target of the Richard Nixon enemies list) the politics of personal destruction that both parties have practiced. I would have also liked to see Barnes report more about the conversion of John Connally from LBJ Democrat to Richard Nixon Republican given how much time he spent with Connally as a political crony and business partner.
It seems to me that Barnes tells some wise political lessons that national politicians of all stripes can learn from - keeping discourse and debate civil, reaching out to those on both flanks, building individual relationships, establishing personal trust and integrity, and choosing policies from both conservative and progressive spectrums in order to attract the broadest possible coalition - especially in an era where an undeclared war (in Iraq) threatens to undermine current Republicans much as it did the Democrats and LBJ in the 1960s.
I can understand why LBJ thought and spoke so highly of Barnes, who clearly has a gift and passion for politics. His stories are fascinating and include many sagacious political observations that those interested in history and public policy can learn a lot from.
Integrity Aug 1, 2006
Damned good book about a time not too long ago, when there were gentlemen of integrity leading us; men and women who cared deeply about the future of their state and country.
They walked the talk ....
A Time When There Was Honor in Politics Jun 22, 2006
Why would anyone read a book about a Texas politician whose political career, which never reached higher than lieutenant governor, spanned a total of twelve years from 1960 to 1972? First, Ben Barnes is a Texan, which means he can spin a hell of a good yarn. Second, his friendships with national political leaders during one of the most dramatic periods of political change in the nation's history put him at the center of the controversy. Third, he continues to be active in the political arena--former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle once called him the "51st Democratic Senator." And, finally, in a manner similar to that described in J. Brian Smith's John Rhodes, Man of the House, Barnes practiced the true spirit of the bipartisanship before it became just another rhetorical tool to undermine one's opponents.
This is a tale of the fall of the Texas Democrats from almost complete control of the state to the status of a minor party and links that to the fall of the national Democratic party. "Where once the names Johnson, Rayburn, and Connally were synonymous with political power, the 21st century brought us Bush, Rove, and DeLay."
Democrats are still asking, "'How did we get to this point?' and "Where do we go from here'?" In response, Barnes begins when Democrats ruled the roost and shows how events, large and small, created cracks in what was once thought an unshakable foundation. The value of the book is that he largely succeeds. (Ironically, many of the cracks in the Democrat's apparently invulnerable foundation seem to be appearing today in the Republican Party.)
The Democratic rise to power began with Franklin Roosevelt's first presidential victory in 1932, and Texans were in power virtually everywhere--including getting one of their own, John Nance "Cactus Jack" garner, elected VP. It also didn't hurt that Texans headed eight of the major House Committees. Sam Rayburn emerged as one of the most powerful Democrats in the country, starting his run as the longest-serving Speaker of the House in 1940. When Lyndon Johnson took over the leadership of the Senate in the 1950s, it was hard to imagine how the Texas or national Republicans could ever recover.
Barnes came somewhat late to the game in 1959, at 22 winning a seat in the Texas State Legislature. Born on a central Texas farm in Comanche county, he grew up thinking long hours and hard work were simply the way everyone lived. His first experience with the power of government came during the depression, when Roosevelt forced through the Rural Electrification Administration which brought electricity to the farms in rural Texas.
"From then on," he writes, "I thought of government as something that helped make people's lives better." He also cites Sam Rayburn who said, "Any jackass can kick down a barn, but it takes a carpenter to build one....These days there's a lot more barn burning in politics than barn building." Barnes was determined to be a barn builder.
He was brilliant, pragmatic, and, most of all, driven to succeed. "That first year I made it my goal to visit every single of the other 149 members of the house." He'd shake their hands, admit to being young and wet behind the ears, and told each how much he'd appreciate them letting him know if he screwed anything up. He asked for advice and offered help on their legislative programs.
However, the Democratic dominance in Texas had long carried the seeds of its own destruction, dating back to the early 20th century and the battle over prohibition with liberals against it and conservatives--mostly from dry counties--for it. Over time, the conservatives gained the advantage by positioning themselves as pro-business as the oil, gas, aviation, and other industries flowed into the state, and, as is almost always the case, with money comes power and influence. The liberals focused more on social issues.
The irony is that the same seeds that were growing into thick weeds in Texas were also affecting the national party. Barnes had a knack for making powerful friends, including John Connally (who as governor was riding in the car and injured when John Kennedy was assassinated,) Sam Rayburn, Lyndon Johnson, Robert Strauss, Barbara Jordan, and a host of other powerful D.C. pols. But by 1960, when there was no external enemy against whom to rally the troops, the internal dissention flared. The two factions--liberals versus moderate/conservatives--had maintained an uneasy alliance, "but absolute power is a dangerous thing."
A major rift occurred in 1952 when conservative Texas Democrats suddenly found themselves more in alignment with Republicans than their own party. Then Texas Governor Allan Shivers, furious over the Truman's administration's position on mineral rights issues in the Gulf Of Mexico, started "Democrats for Eisenhower in 1952 and '56." The state twice voted for a Republican president.
As the dissention continued, the potential for healing it came in 1960 with Lyndon Johnson's presidential run. It wasn't to be, and Johnson accepting the number two slot turned out to be "so divisive, in fact, that some have argued that the downfall of the Texas Democratic party can be traced to that moment." Johnson's allies as well as many others couldn't believe that he would support someone perceived as so liberal; in addition, they didn't think Kennedy had a chance of success.
The Kennedy/Johnson victory didn't help, although it temporarily covered over problems as the Democrats nationally and in Texas dominated the political landscape. But the underlying issues were growing more divisive. "This was the essential mistake the Texas Democratic party made during these years....They'd start to devour each other in fits of spite, allowing the Republicans to gain vital footholds in the state," such as the election of Republican John Tower as a Texas Senator and the beginning of the exodus of Texas conservative Democrats to the enemy.
Barnes' climb up the political ladder was as impressive as it is instructive. Taking bipartisanship to heart, he got along with almost everyone, although not without making a few costly mistakes along the way. He also treated every event as a learning opportunity. After the assassination of John Kennedy, a meeting with now President Johnson and Connolly, where they fought over what to do about Bobby Kennedy, "pointed up the continuing problem...of ill feeling between the liberals and moderates."
The tragedy is that, even though Johnson took up Kennedy's legislative agenda--in particular, civil rights--and succeeded where the latter had failed, that did nothing to ease the intense dislike between Johnson and Bobby Kennedy and their respective camps.
Soon after the 1965 Voting Rights Act was signed into law, Johnson told Barnes, "' Ben, I'm proud of these Civil Rights bills, but they're going to hurt the party in the long run'." This anecdote is just one of many that make this book so valuable: Johnson, the consummate power-hungry politician, sacrificing his party for a nobler cause.
He was right. Southern conservative Democrats began a shift that eventually turned the south into a Republican stronghold, when, despite Johnson's landslide victory over Barry Goldwater in 1964, Goldwater carried five deep-south states.
Throughout the `60s, Barnes gives credit to Governor Connally for holding the Texas Democrats together despite the ongoing feuds. By then Barnes was the 26-year-old Speaker of the House and supported both Johnson and Connally in their progressive agendas to build bridges between the business community and the progressive side of the party. "This is another element of the party's strength that we've lost today; we need to find and cultivate business leaders who care about more than just profit, and who'll work with us to improve the state." The same applies nationally.
On March 31, 1968, Lyndon Johnson announced that he would not run for president, and that "immediately changed everything about the game, both nationwide and in Texas [which] for the first time in decades, lack a national leader in Washington." Connally had already announced he wasn't running for governor again. Texas Democrats were on the verge of meltdown. And when Bobby Kennedy was assassinated just over two months later, on June 5th, there was no national Democratic leader of his stature to take over.
The Vietnam War was tearing the country apart, Martin Luther King's assassination just four days after Johnson's announcement, inflamed both blacks and whites, and the Democratic Convention in Chicago that year was a disaster for the party.
Nixon's campaign created the new Republican playbook that's still in use today: "Divide and conquer, using the rawest, most emotional issues in American life as a bludgeon and wedge." While the Texas Democrats did well in the 1970 elections, they didn't know that Nixon had already targeted them. Securities and Exchange Commission investigations, illegal IRS audits, and Justice Department investigations not only took down Barnes, but, as he says, "Nixon had orchestrated the destruction of Texas Democrats." The infamous Nixon tapes verify Barnes' claim.
Nationally and in Texas, the Democrats were in freefall. Connally became a Republican, partially to run for president but also because of his disgust with the '72 convention that nominated George McGovern.
Barnes concludes with an analysis of the difference between Texas and the country under Republicans and Democrats, and, given what he'd gone through, one can excuse excesses such as when he says of the 1988 Bush/Dukakis race, "For the first time in American politics, a candidate ran primarily on a platform of tearing down his opponent."
But he is right that, "Today, that kind of negative politicking is everywhere you look." Both sides have demonized the other, and "political discourse...has turned into little more than name-calling." As a politician with the ability to skillfully maneuver the shark-infested waters of government, he also believed that government had a responsibility to the people, and he demonstrated that over and over.
"Today's politicians too often govern with an eye on the next election, rather than on the future, and the people they represent are suffering as a result."
"Barn Burning, Barn Building" is an important book. In an era of cynicism and distrust, it reminds us of a time when government and politicians believed in more than their own self-aggrandizement.